Peaks & Troughs

Peaks & Troughs

And it was all going so well…… Sunday saw me taking Amber out for our first SJ competition. Just a 70cm round at a local venue. She was surprisingly chilled and surprisingly rideable and we popped round clear. So we entered the next class – the 75cm. She was a little less chilled and a little less rideable. Resulting in me forgetting to look up, forcing her onto the forehand for a pole. Then losing my brakes so she ran past fence 7. Then forgetting to look ahead to the next fence so she did not make a tightish turn to a skinny. 12 faults. Oh dear.

So today I booked in for a jumping clinic. And she was even less rideable. She was powerful & enthusiastic. So much so that she just pinged me completely off her by jumping huge over a small fence! How embarrassing. And how frustrating.

There is a lot of social media hate at the moment directed at a mediocre rider on an awesome horse. Well that’s pretty much how I feel. I felt obliged to explain to the trainer today that I did not set out to buy a horse like Amber, and that I know that I am not good enough for her but she was a dealer swap, sold from the field. “Well that dealer had no clue what he had stood in his field’, she remarked, adding that Amber had pretty much limitless potential in terms of how far I could take her. The trouble is I can’t really ride her yet! When she is relaxed (as she usually is at home now) then yes we have made huge strides over the last few months and I begin to feel like the partnership is really coming together. But then we have days like today when her adrenaline is up a bit and I feel like a complete beginner again. Which is pretty disheartening tbh.

The trainer said Amber is a bit like a Porsche 911:  she will respond beautifully but she is sensitive and she is very powerful with phenomenal acceleration and a huge jump. Riding that power is bloody scary and not always easy……. but exciting once you get the hang of it….

So today’s lesson was illuminating in that it shone a spotlight on my failings as a rider. Which is fine –  it’s not exactly news…. My hips are tight, I don’t have an independent seat, I can’t sit into her movement so I brace to stop bouncing, I balance on my hands, I don’t use my core enough and I give too many unintentional cues with my flappy legs! Poor Amber. But the good news is she is forgiving. When I get it right everything about her softens. Her facial expression, her neck, her paces, her reactions. Suddenly there seems ample time between fences and it all feels relaxed and easy. You can almost feel the sigh of relief and her saying: “that’s better can’t you just ride like that all the time?” Sorry Amber but actually no I truly can’t! Not yet anyway. But even when I get it wrong she is generous to me. She signals her displeasure with her ears and tail and with tension but she doesn’t ditch me. She still listens and tries to comply.

Having a horse like her feels like a huge privilege. And also a huge responsibility.  Let’s hope I can raise my game to be worthy of her….. Aintree indoor SJ on Sunday feels like it has come around too soon. We aren’t ready to compete over 80cm (the lowest round). (Well she is, I’m not!) So instead I will try again at 70 and 75 at my local venue on Sunday instead. And in the meantime get to work on those hips (and core, and seat and hands and legs and feet and balance and brain…….)




I decided to start a blog to keep a personal record of my progress (or lack thereof!) It is public because I love reading other people’s stories about how they travel from A to B.

But I have no idea how some people seem to manage to blog weekly. Not much happens in a week. And sometimes not much happens in a month. Or 3! Or so it seems….

I  had an amazing summer achieving things I’d never dreamed were possible for me – jumping 90cm XC fences, practicing over 80cm ODE courses, being taught by amazing trainers like Gemma Tattersall who said they liked Amber and saw loads of potential in her.

I came out of the summer happy and excited. BUT there was a big BUT in those achievements: Amber was constantly on the edge of control. She was wild, exuberant, flat and fast. She was strong and wilful. She was frankly barely rideable. Not by me anyway.

I considered sending her away – in fact a trainer at the Gemma Tattersall camp had suggested it and volunteered himself for the job. ‘I’d be out competing her at British Novice now’ he told me.

It was tempting because I realised how much better she is a horse than I am a rider. It almost seemed unfair on her to have to put up with my rubbish riding when she could be properly produced by a pro.

I mentioned it to my RI/YO. NO!!! was her verdict.  There was no need. I could have regular lessons. Amber could be schooled by my YO/RI and I could do it myself. And the first thing I needed to do was stop jumping, stop XC and sort out the basics. Make her more rideable. That bloody word again! It has followed me ever since I started riding her. At the Buck Brannaman clinic in Aintree in June he bellowed “YOUR HORSE IS RUNNIN’ OFF WITH YOU. YOU DON’T CARE CUZ SHE’S DOIN’ IT IN WALK BUT IT IS UNACCEPTABLE!’ at me. I realised he was right. She dictated the pace whenever she wanted to. At walk, at trot, at canter and most of all at jumps!

So began a long winter of back-to-basics work. Kathleen Lindley Beckham wrote a great blog recently on foundations. They aren’t exciting. They aren’t fun. They aren’t aesthetically pleasing. They take a long time to build. And they are totally and utterly essential.

The rest of the year was about foundations. It was also about trust. Trust that this would actually make a difference. That endless schooling in the rain, endless pole work, endless circles and transitions would install some rideability into her. I expected it to improve her dressage – it could hardly not as that was the sole focus. But I was constantly reassured that it would also improve her jumping. Jumping is all about the bit in between the fences I kept being told. Rhythm, balance, control, impulsion, rideability. I struggled to be convinced and I struggled to avoid the temptation to book into jumping clinics.  Surely you need to jump to get better at jumping? At the same time my jumping nerves began kicking in again. I am a nervous jumper and the only thing that keeps my confidence up is regular exposure. Having not jumped Amber since September, even tiny 50cm fences looked massive again. So much so that last week I went on the farm ride at Somerford and refused to jump anything at all. Not even small logs. The idea of going out eventing in a couple of months started seeming utterly ludicrous again.

But I followed instructions. And last week there was an exercise set up in the arena of 2 jumps on a 15m circle.  I cantered the 20m circle round the outside of them and then spiralled in and established a 15cm circle. She popped each fence sweetly in the same canter rhythm.

So I would add another descriptor to Kathleen’s list:

Nothing seems to change for ages. And then suddenly everything changes. Amber was quite simply a different horse.

And today I jumped a 60/65cm course. And a jump off course. She was a total star. She listened, she waited, she stayed rhythmic and balanced, she made all the tight turns and she jumped everything calmly and IN CONTROL. Hallelujah!

I felt sick before jumping the first little warm up jump but could feel confidence surging back as my amazing horse just got on with her job. ‘No bother’, she seemed to say. ‘What’s all the fuss about’.

Next stop indoor show-jumping at Aintree on 4th Feb. Wish me luck!


Happy Amberversary

Happy Amberversary

How is it possible I have had this wonderful horse for a year? And what a year it has been.

I viewed Amber on 3rd January 2017 in an exceedingly dim frame of mind. I had bought an unbacked 3 year old KWPN Gelding who came over from Ireland with a recent vetting certificate which I foolishly accepted. My farrier told me he was remedial shod and his foot looked ‘not good at all’. My own vet said he had a club foot. It was too late to correct and the limb was under abnormal strain. He would be unsuited for jumping and likely to break down with any work sooner or later.  He wrote me a report saying the horse was unfit for purpose (I had bought him with the hope of eventing) so I could return the horse. Dealer agreed to a swap. So this day a year ago, I loaded him up to take him back. And I was offered Amber or…… Amber. Thin, scruffy, out of work, hard to catch, grumpy. And a mare. A CHESTNUT mare at that. (I know, I know: a good horse is never a bad colour and all that. But I had a long standing prejudice against chestnut mares from a nutcase I rode in childhood which the various chestnut mares I had met at riding schools over the years did nothing to dispel).

Still I figured she would have to  do as a sale project to recoup some of my losses and I brought her home.

Within 3 weeks days she had gone down with strangles as did my other 2 ponies. So we really did not meet or get to know each other in the best of circumstances to say the least!

At the time I bought her, I was told her ‘passport’ name which was just a blend of the sire and dam names but actually she did not have a passport name at all. No-one had ever bothered to name her and officially she still just had a Foal number.  I put that right, naming her Ambers Echo – a nod to her famous grandmother, the showjumper Echo Beach.

Since then she has proved herself a superstar 1000 times  over. I simply cannot believe my luck that this amazing mare just fell into my life.

Well she’s here for good now. My New Year Surprise. My diamond in the rough. My beautiful Amber.

A few pictures telling the story of our year….

January 2017: Not looking her best!


March 2017: In isolation livery after strangles. Spending half my wages on feed helped her look a little better – but I was unable to work her so she had no muscle at all.


May 2017:  Finally getting her going under saddleDSC03822.JPGDSC03819

June 2017: A busy month: Buck Brannaman clinic at Aintree and first jump! Enthusiastic if not very straight! She jumped straight over the guiding poles and nearly pinged me off. My first experience of her very enthusiastic back end!


July 2017: First hack and a few small XC jumps… Followed by PONY CAMP. She got good at jumping pretty fast. And I went from being nervous of a log to jumping 80/90cm XC fences. What a confidence giving fabulous mare.



August 2017 – Then a leather snapped and I got trodden on. OUCH. She’s heavy!

September 2017: Back in the saddle for another natural horsemanship clinic with Kathleen Lindley followed by PONY CAMP MARK 2 – in which people tell me Amber really is quite special. (Well of course I knew that anyway….)


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October – December 2017

A 58% dressage score –YIKES. All the XC fun made her forget all her flatwork and sent her slightly loopy…. Time to knuckle down and focus on the basics. Plus rehabbing a very weak back end – probably from an old neck injury.




December 2017: 72% dressage test. That’s better!

Happy Amberversary Gorgeous Girl. Can’t  wait to share 2018 with you xxx